Eviction in Eugene

Eviction in Eugene

There was an eviction in Eugene today. You likely didn’t hear about it.

It wasn’t advertised on tv or in the newspaper or anything like that—most evictions aren’t to be fair. The small corner near Amazon Creek where it took place doesn’t see much foot traffic. There aren’t nearby parking spots for a passerby to stop and linger. I only got to see it out of happenstance. I was a lottery winner for a free front row seat to a show some might call “the human condition.” By “some,” I’m referring to the stodgy professor type—you know who I’m talking about. It’s your college English professor in an oversized blazer who assigns an essay about how a couple of unrelated plays exemplify the human condition. You google “human condition” because you don’t know what a pretentious phrase like that means and Wikipedia kindly informs you the human condition is “all of the characteristics and key events of human life, including birth, learning, emotion, aspiration, morality, conflict, and death.” Well, that narrows things down nicely.

Today, the human condition has taken a corporeal form. It’s hard and real. It’s not some wispy, ambiguous reflection on morality spoken about between hits of a marijuana joint. The human condition is a middle-aged man curled up in the fetal position with his hands clasped over the back of his head. His forehead is pressed against the dirt. His body convulses with sobs. He lets out a low moan like a dying animal. He is a dying animal—less than an animal to some people. If you saw a mangy dog in a lopsided doghouse on the side of the road, would you throw away the doghouse and leave the dog? Would that teach the dog a lesson?

I was walking to the bus stop when I came across the crying man. I knew this man. I passed him every weekday on my way to school. I was so taken by the scene, the sudden reversal of his circumstances, that I stopped. Just yesterday he had been living contently in a small home he had constructed. The house had been an array of different shaped boards thrown together to form a precariously slanted lean-to. A thick black blanket had been draped over the top like a garish bear fur. It stood beneath a pine tree in the corner of two adjoining fences that blocked off Amazon Creek. One section of the fence had been cut away, leaving a direct, well-tread path down to the small body of water—a nice spot for bathing and other necessities. The man would park his bike and other belongings nearby and occasionally have visitors over. They would sit under the shade of the tree and talk amicably. They laughed and gestured in a manner you might in your own living room. This was all a past reality though, an infinitesimal blip amongst the daily happenings of almost 8 billion people. There was no home anymore.

Someone had come and taken the home—erased it completely. Nothing had been spared. The thoroughness of the eviction suggests it hadn't been an enterprising individual that had done the deed, but a city organization instead. By law, all this man’s worldly belongings were now being stored by this organization somewhere for 30 days prior to disposal. Where that somewhere is and what the process is to claim his property is elusive. Online aid directs you to call the agency that confiscated the property. If you don’t know the responsible agency, the best bet is to call the Eugene Police Department’s non-emergency line. The operator directs you to the City of Eugene Public Works and the Property and Evidence Control Unit of the Police Department. The operator warns to not bother calling them today though because those offices only work Monday and Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM. Also, don’t bother showing up in person because they only accept people by appointment only. I’m sure glad I have a reliable cell phone, internet access, flexible schedule, transportation, and a developed ability to communicate in case my house is suddenly confiscated.

I guess I can’t be too cynical about the inconvenience though. Convenience is secondary when you’re dealing with hardened criminals. After all, Eugene City Code 4.815 “prohibits camping in public right-of-ways, parks and other publicly owned property.” Interestingly, Oregon law (HB 3124); says “established camping sites must receive a 72-hour notice before removal, except in rare cases involving (non-camping) criminal activity or major health and safety hazards.” I wonder if the bereft man had been given the required 3-day notice that his house was going to be destroyed.

I have my doubts.

While struck still and taking in the scene, the perverse inclination to take a picture crossed my mind. I knew I would never be able to capture the experience with words. I could already envision future me gesticulating wildly with my hands as I tried to convey the scene to my friend. My armpits would probably start to perspire and my voice would have taken on a rapid, stumbling cadence like a hungover Marine sprinting over the finishing line of his timed three-mile run. Then, so taken by my explanation, my friend would exclaim, “Wow.” They would promptly return to whatever had been previously capturing their attention as I deflated onto the floor like a balloon. Staring up at the ceiling, I would dejectedly reprimand myself for not getting a picture. I wanted to convey the human condition with words, but I had failed.

After seeing the man mourning his loss, I saw him the next couple days sleeping on the ground where his home had been. More accurately, he slept a few feet away from where his home had been as if the direct location, the barren patch beneath the tree, was a fresh wound sensitive to the touch. He laid inert almost touching the edge of the sidewalk as traffic careened by a few feet away. His position screamed defiance without creating an inconvenience.

“You can walk by unimpeded, but you’ll have to see me. You’ll have to acknowledge my existence as you trudge through another mundane day. I hope the one who reported me walks by while I’m sleeping, so they can see the fruit of their labor,” the sleeping man says.

Eventually, the man disappeared from the sidewalk. The spot beneath the pine tree remained empty. Construction hadn't started for a new home. I trudged onwards to and from the bus stop. My ten-page paper about Antigone and The Importance of Being Earnest didn’t prepare me for this.